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“Street racing” is when one operates a motor vehicle in a race with at least one other motor vehicle on a street, road, highway or other public place1. It is often accompanied by “stunting”, which occurs when a driver of a motor vehicle intentionally tries to lose traction on the road or highway, spin in a circle without maintaining control, drive with a person in the trunk of the motor vehicle, drive over 50 kilometers per hour over the speed limit, or drive without care, attention, and consideration for others2. Street racing is considered an offence against the person and reputation3. This is due to its extreme nature, risk of bodily harm and death, and the risk of damaged roads and property. It is seen as a problem of public health and safety. While there are laws with accompanying punishments set out to combat the act of street racing, there have been several claims that sections of the stunt driving laws are unconstitutional for various reasons4. In order to battle against the problem of street racing and the setbacks in involves, many jurisdictions have executed programs in order to reduce the number of incidents. Street racing is a dangerous and illegal act that has a variety of punishments, is in conflict the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is trying to be prevented across Ontario through the use of the ERASE Program.
Since street racing is a key contributor to motor vehicle injuries and deaths, there are several penalties when one is charged with street racing and stunting5. Over the years, the laws against street racing have gotten stricter. In May of 2007, the Ontario government passed Bill 203, where the previous minimum fine for street racing was raised from $200 to $2,000 and the maximum fine increasing from $1,000 to $10,000. According to Transportation Minister Donna Cansfieldin, this penalty was raised in hopes of cracking down on dangerous driving6. Currently in Ontario, according to section 249.2 of the Criminal Code of Canada, everyone who causes death to another person by criminal negligence while street racing is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to life in prison while everyone who causes bodily harm to another person by criminal negligence while street racing is guilty of an indictable offence and faces up to fourteen years in prison7. Also, if a person is found guilty of street racing, there is an immediate mandatory seven day licence suspension of the driver of the vehicle and seven day vehicle impoundment of the vehicle being driven at the time of the incident and the driver can face a possible driver’s licence suspension of up to two years, and receive at least six demerit points on their record8. The penalties can vary based on what the driver had been caught doing. The more damage the driver causes, the stiffer the penalties. On the evening of May 5, 2014, 18 year old Vince Lisi had been caught driving 240 km/h on Highway 407 in Vaughan, Ontario. After being pulled over by the Ontario Provincial Police, Lisi was charged with dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, stunt driving, and failure to surrender a driver’s licence. His car was immediately impounded and his licence was suspended; both for seven days. He was also given six demerit points for driving 50 km/h over the speed limit9. This is an example of a lesser charge for street racing. While Lisi still faces the possibility of a fine reaching up to $10,000, the consequences he faced were still minor, as he caused no damage to the road, other property, or bodily harm to pedestrians or other drivers10. On June 22, 2010, in Ottawa, Ontario, 18 year old Christian “Sisco” Williams was killed while street racing with his friend, 19 year old Kareem Alli, when Williams Honda crashed into a lamp post while the pair was racing at speeds of up to 120 km/h11. Alli was found guilty of dangerous driving causing death and had been sentenced to 30 months in prison12. This case is an example of a stiffer penalty for street racing. Since the dangerous driving between Williams and Alli resulted in Williams’ death, the consequences that Alli faced were heavier than Lisi. In a majority of cases, young drivers are the ones at fault for street racing charges. In 2011, in Waterloo alone, 69 stunt driving charges were issued and almost one third of the drivers were less than 20 years of age13. The laws against street racing have been made stricter in order to protect the safety of others, however, are controversial and are up for debate.
When the Ontario government unveiled Bill 203, a large debate opened up amongst the public14. Many felt the new laws were unconstitutional. One of these was section 3(7) of the Ontario Regulations 455/07 because it, “created an absolute liability offence for which one can be imprisoned for six months, contrary to section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms”. This means that it has been deemed unconstitutional to convict a person of stunt driving or speed racing under section 172 of the Highway Traffic Act solely based on the fact that they were speeding15. This is because it takes away a person’s right to security, which is protected under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms16. If a person is convicted for stunt driving because they are speeding, their right to security will be deprived, making it a direct violation of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The issue of speeding and street racing is one of the biggest problems when it comes to Ontario’s street racing laws. In April 2008, 62 year old Jane Raham had been charged for street racing after being clocked driving 131 km/h in an 80 km/h zone. The 51 km/h difference was the reason for the charge, which included the possibility of up to six months in jail, but was deemed unconstitutional in the lower courts due to Raham not being able to defend herself against such charges. Similarly, in fall of 2009, 18 year old Alexandra Drutz had been caught driving 157 km/h on Highway 407 north of Toronto and was charged with street racing, only for it to be dismissed by a Newmarket judge17. Both of these cases show the conflict between the street racing laws and other Canadian laws and constitutions. In both cases, neither of the accused would be able to defend themselves from street racing because of how fast they were driving. Due to both women driving 50 km/h over the limit, it was automatically assumed that they were both street racing. This meant that jail time was a possibility for both of the accused when instead of street racing, they were speeding, which albeit may be similar, are not the same offence. Speeding and street racing are two separate offences under the Highway Traffic Act and thus, have separate consequences18. Ontario’s recently updated street racing laws has taken speeding, where the highest penalty does not equate to prison as it is an absolute liability, and given it a more serious charge due to the assumption of stunt driving19. Since the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees that anyone who commits an absolute liability offence cannot be sent to jail, it is unconstitutional for one to face jail time for stunt driving if they are only caught driving at a speed 50 km/h above the legal limit. While it can be argued that one is racing while going at such a fast speed, the inability for a defense makes this penalty of street racing unlawful. In order to battle against street racing, the Ontario government not only had to increase the penalties for the act, but also reach out to those who are committing the act.
Across Ontario, many programs have been created to target illegal street racing. One of the largest programs is called the Eliminate Racing Activities on Streets Everywhere Program, better known as the ERASE Program or Project ERASE20. The goal of the ERASE Program is to change poor driver behaviour through education and strategic enforcement21. Since 1999, 43 people have been killed across the GTA as a result of street racing and 34 have been severely injured22. The ERASE Program was created in order to eradicate fatalities and injuries that occur while illegal street racing, where in most cases, cars are modified to drive faster, but are beyond the control for the driver, who is typically of a younger age, and their abilities23. It is the collaborative effort of the York Regional Police, Peel Regional Police, Waterloo Regional Police, Barrie Police, London Police, South Simcoe Police, Toronto Police, Halton Regional Police, Greater Sudbury Police, Durham Regional Police, Guelph Police, Hamilton Police, Brantford Police, Niagara Police, Ministry of the Environment, and the Ministry of Transportation and covers the majority of southern Ontario24. In order to combat street racing, at the beginning of every summer since the program’s creation in June of 2003, the police forces involved with Project ERASE launch an educational campaign coupled with stricter law enforcement throughout the warmer season, which is when most street racing fatalities occur25. This includes school and car show presentations, which feature vehicles that have been involved in fatal street racing incidents and police deployments with a zero tolerance for speed racing and stunt driving26. Since the creation of Project ERASE, there has been a significant drop in fatalities and crashes in the Toronto area as a result of street racing. However, while these programs provide awareness for street racing and the consequences that it holds, both health and legal, its success lies with the public27. The communities themselves will have to take on the responsibility to help enforce the teachings of the police from the ERASE Program and to inform the police if they have any information of street racing, stunt driving, or similar activities that are occurring.
Street racing is a dangerous and illegal act that has a variety of punishments, is in conflict the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and is trying to be prevented across Ontario through the use of the ERASE Program. As the endeavour to put an end to street racing and stunt driving become more challenging, the consequences for the acts must become stiffer in order to deter those from attempting to street race or stunt drive. However, there is a fault in the constantly updating laws, as they go against basic rights that are outlined in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In order to lower the numbers of street races in Ontario, the police must reach out to those who are most likely to attempt street races and stunt driving and warn them of the dangers that the act possesses. While it is almost certain that street racing will never disappear, stricter laws and punishment, as well as knowledge of the dangers of street racing and stunt driving, can help reduce the number of illegal street races that are taking place.
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